Respect for Diversity

Is there anyone who can say, with hand on heart, that they are not in awe of – or at the very least inspired by – the amazing diversity of scenery, climate, trees, plants, animals, fish and even insects that we are so privileged to be surrounded by on this beautiful planet of ours?

I have yet to come across such a person!

Why is it, then, that so many humans struggle to come to terms with the issue of diversity within our own species?

“It is not our differences that divide us.

It is our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences.”

– Audre Lord

Respect for Diversity
Respect for Diversity (continued)


The wonder of diversity

The degree of diversity that nature and indeed the entire universe, presents us with is quite breathtaking and is there for all of us to enjoy if we choose to.

Variety is considered to be the spice of life. Many of us will go out of our way to see, do and experience new and different things, as we appreciate just how this enriches and adds to the value of our lives.

So, when it comes to nature, we generally view diversity (meaning ‘being made of up many different elements’) to be nothing less than a true ‘wonder’.

Human diversity and intolerance

So what is it about human diversity that causes so much conflict?

Why do so many of us struggle to tolerate others who look, speak, behave, feel – or hold beliefs that are – significantly different?

The reason has to do with the ‘conditioning’ that we receive during our upbringing and education.

When we become used to living in a certain way, speaking in a specific language or with a certain accent, mixing with people of a common ethnic background or culture and acting and behaving in ways that are considered the norm in our community, it is easy to label that which we have become used to as ‘normal’ and anything that is significantly different as ‘abnormal’.

When you hold a self-centric view of the world, where everything revolves around you and your wants and needs, then it is natural to be attracted to that which feels familiar, comfortable or ‘normal’ and to resist, avoid or lack tolerance for anything that feels different, uncomfortable or ‘abnormal’.

If you don’t stop to consciously rationalise why people are different and how differences are not only perfectly normal and acceptable but actually very desirable, you may easily develop and harbour disempowering and even destructive generalised beliefs about people or groups of people that don’t conform to your own narrow definition of what is ‘normal’.

Such beliefs are often reinforced and perpetuated when you confine your interactions to family and social groups that broadly share the attributes that you consider ‘normal’.

Peer group pressure to conform to what is regarded as ‘normal’, can, particularly amongst youngsters, quickly develop into dislike, disdain and even bullying of those considered ‘not normal’.

The blue-eyes/brown-eyes experiment

In a fascinating but very disturbing experiment, just after the assassination of American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, in 1968, a teacher from Iowa, whose aim was to help children understand the gross unjustness of racial discrimination and prejudice, split her class of 28 into brown-eyed and blue-eyed children.

She then proceeded to convince the class that the brown-eyed kids were better in every way than the blue-eyed ones. The experiment took on a life of its own and before long the affects of the split were seen in displays of nastiness and contempt towards the blue-eyed group who quickly began to buy in to their supposed inferiority.

On the following school day the teacher reversed the exercise, telling the brown-eyed kids that it was actually they who were inferior to the ‘blue-eyes’. Although the tables had turned, the blue-eyed kids, who had felt the full effects of discrimination had second thoughts about perpetrating similar injustices on their colleagues.

Disrespect for diversity takes many forms

Lack of respect for – or intolerance of – diversity can, of course, take many forms.

People around the world have been and still are poorly treated and even persecuted for being ‘different’ whether that be for their skin colour, culture, religious or other beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, social standing or any manner of other things.

How terribly sad, when we are all ultimately from the same source and all interconnected!

Life coaching and respect for diversity

It stands to reason that professional life coaches absolutely must have and maintain a healthy appreciation and respect for diversity.

By this I mean understanding that each individual is unique and recognising, respecting and ascribing real value to the existence of these individual differences.

Every person coached brings new challenges by way of their differences.

By meeting these challenges and harnessing the learnings that come from embracing this diversity, coaches grow and develop as individuals – and that’s what makes life coaching such a wonderfully fulfilling career.

Working with diversity also helps coaches to become masters of rapport building as they learn the value of putting themselves in the shoes of others.

Coaches that are capable of building rapport with clients, no matter their background, upbringing or persuasions will experience coaching relationships that flourish.

Really successful coaching practices are run by coaches who gain a reputation for genuinely understanding, appreciating and caring for all of their clients. That respect for diversity is the foundation for relationships that deliver results.


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  1. Thersia
    Jul 13, 2017

    Yes I have experienced a lot of diversity in my life. I am ok with diversity it makes life fun and exciting to be in, I dislike boredom. And yet there is always something great to learn.

  2. Zandile
    Jul 11, 2017

    Great post. I think one of the issues that drives the resistance to diversity is fear. The question I ask myself is “what am I really afraid of?” whenever I find myself responding negatively to another person simply because they are different. Most of the time, it is due to some misconception which has no basis in fact. Wonderful and timely post.

    • Bill
      Jul 18, 2017

      Thanks for the constructive comment!

  3. Avril Geary
    Jul 8, 2017

    Thanks for this excellent article Bill! Respecting the differences in others demonstrates my self respect too. Appreciating diversity in others makes me a much better person.

    • Bill
      Jul 18, 2017

      Thanks Avril!

  4. Alana Byrne
    Jul 6, 2017

    A brilliant post. As a coach, one of the questions I have been reflecting on lately is, “How am I showing my respect for diversity?”
    I think the best answer I have come up with so far is taking time to question and understand. We are all so quick to ‘teach’ others what THEY don’t understand before first learning what we don’t understand.

    • Bill
      Jul 6, 2017

      Beautifully put Alana!

  5. Shaheema
    Jul 5, 2017

    Diversity is definitely an essential skill to be a successful life coach. The metaphor to nature is a great away to articulate how diversity should be respected in our own species. I’m looking forward to starting my life coach training with New Insights in September.
    P.S. A good read for the corporate life coaches is Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

    • Bill
      Jul 19, 2017

      Thanks Shaheema!

  6. Bill, I am a huge fan of your blog posts but I have to say this one is your best ever! I loved everything about it and the analogy to nature is superb. I had never thought of it in that way. In my own coaching practice, I have such a range of clients, in terms of race, age, gender and circumstances and those differences are what keep my passion for coaching alive and thriving. Absolutely love this post!

    • Bill
      Jul 6, 2017

      I’m so pleased this hit the mark with you Tania – and thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Karen
    Jul 5, 2017

    A very worthwhile topic, Bill which is so well timed in the context of what is currently taking place in our own country as well as globally. What a wonderful world we live in (yes, Louis Armstrong was absolutely right), but how tragic it is that there is so much cruelty and violence within it.

    Only when one relinquishes an “us” and “them” mentality, can one begin to experience a different response when interacting with others. It starts with respect which leads to acceptance and finally, in those who are enlightened, is transformed into love.

    • Bill
      Jul 6, 2017

      Thanks for your contribution Karen!

  8. Thanks Bill! Interesting article that references the work of Jane Elliot, a remarkable woman, who challenged prejudice and discrimination after the killing of Martin Luther King and continues with the work today. It would have been great to see the article expand on her work with adults. The article quite rightly discusses the quality of coaching when the coach is diversity aware. I’d add that coaching is vastly improved when diversity is included in the training, the coach continues to have supervision, and attends CPD events that focus on this.

    • Bill
      Jul 19, 2017

      Wise words – thanks Judeline!

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